Following Sunn O)))’s UK tour in late October 2019, on invitation from Mary Anne Hobbs for her BBC Radio 6 Music show, the band entered studio 4 of the BBC Maida Vale to record a live session broadcasted on Samhain.
In a year which saw eternal amplifier worshippers, Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley, welcome in two of their finest albums yet in Life Metal and Pyroclasts, Metta, Benevolence… continues what feels like a new dawn for Sunn O))).
Joining O’Malley and Anderson during the Life Metal and Pyroclasts recordings and subsequent tour, Tos Nieuwenhuizen (synthesizer), Stephen Moore (trombone, synthesizers), Bottomless Pit’s Tim Midyett (bass, synthesizer), and vocalist Anna von Hausswolff, enhance the already monolithic slabs of sound in which Sunn O))) have shaken us with over the years.
It’s von Hausswolff’s performance on Metta, Benevolence… that grabs the headlines. Supporting Sunn O))) on the aforementioned tour, the Swedish vocalist’s inclusion sees the drone titans set fire to the rulebook that most others would normally adhere to with live releases. In many respects, to place Metta, Benevolence… in the “live album” pantheon (one that is often considered superfluous and insipid) feels like a sheer injustice to these recordings.
Von Hausswolff’s vocals on Pyroclasts F and Pyroclasts C# not only feminise Sunn O))) like never before; her performance mutates these songs into new dynamic forms, rendering their past guises as near unrecognisable. The former, a trailblazing wall of sound as von Hausswolff’s desert-witch delivery emerges like a phoenix from the flames. This continues on the latter with an astral drone piece so heavy that it could move planets.
With the former interpretations vapourised, alongside von Hausswolff, once again Sunn O))) take the idea of psychedelia to new extremes.
Out of the three compositions, Troubled Air is the closest representation of what Sunn O))) delivered on Life Metal. As ever, there is room for nuance, and here the track is drawn out with a sea of volume that rumbles with a tonal heaviness that, like BIG|BRAVE earlier this year, sends tremors through oak.
With the addition of Nieuwenhuizen’s Moog rogue synthesizer and Moore’s trombone, Troubled Air is sharpened with a sinister edge. Not that we needed reminding, but Metta, Benevolence… reaffirms Sunn O)))’s position as, indeed, the high priest in the church for the doomed and disconsolate.
Like Life Metal and Pyroclasts, it’s important to highlight Samantha Keely Smith’s artwork for Metta, Benevolence…. Once again ingrained in romanticism and abstract expressionism, Smith’s paintings are a vital component to what should now be considered a trilogy. Given this is a live recording of material from the preceding two releases, some may find this ridiculous to suggest, but exploding with such force and vigour, Metta, Benevolence…. goes far beyond any live album concept.
In the lead-up to its release, Anderson and O’Malley spoke of Pyroclasts being their ‘meditative’ album. While it certainly sits in this sonic sphere, with Metta, Benevolence… Sunn O))) transcend these ideas with something fiercely primal, hypnotically immersive, and forever radiant.
Metta, Benevolence. BBC 6Music: Live on the invitation of Mary Anne Hobbs is out now via Southern Lord. Purchase from Bandcamp.